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Building a Broken Heart

Cover photograph by Michael Lavine

Bruce Springsteen walks into a photo studio in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen, looking for a place to sit. There are plenty of familiar faces around him on this early fall day — Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, Little Steven — but for some reason Springsteen makes a line toward the two pasty-faced guys on the couch.

“Mind if I sit here?” he asks.

Ben Gibbard and Nick Harmer, the cushion monkeys in question, voice no objections. Mostly because they are scared shitless. “I’m Bruce,” he says, plopping down next to them.

Within minutes, Harmer is nervously swaying his legs back and forth, and the only thing Gibbard can think is “Nick, you’re getting really close to him. He’s going to flip out if you touch him. Don’t touch the Boss. Don’t touch the Boss!'”

It’s strange to imagine that Bruce Springsteen would go ballistic over a little accidental footsie — after all, he once wore a bolo tie and sang about tunnels of love. But it’s especially strange, considering that Gibbard and Harmer have every reason to be within knee-knocking distance of a legend: Their band, Death Cab for Cutie, has sold almost half a million copies of its last album, 2003’s Transatlanticism, on the small Seattle label Barsuk. They were invited to join the 2004 Vote for Change tour alongside Springsteen, R.E.M., Pearl Jam, and Dave Matthews Band. To a certain segment of the population — indie nerds, The Ocfanatics, soundtrack czars — they’re the biggest band in the land.

And yet, when Springsteen asks for a little room on the couch they behave just the way you probably would — awkward, kind of uncool. In fact, everything about the members of Death Cab — singer/guitarist Gibbard, 29; bassist Harmer, 30; guitarist/producer Chris Walla, 29; and drummer Jason McGerr, 31 — may seem strangely familiar. They like comic books and Woody Allen movies, and grew up on Pixies and U2. In fact, it’s almost as if they’re living their fans’ lives, if their fans had decided not to go to grad school or hadn’t quit their crappy high school band before they got any good. Who knows? Maybe they remind you a little bit of…you.

EXCLUSIVE! takes you behind the scenes of Death Cab’s Spin cover shoot! Death Cab videographer Aaron Stewart talks to Ben Gibbard about his childhood subscription to Spin and shows the lads opening their bleeding hearts for Spin‘s cameras. Click here to watch the footage.

To read the rest of the Death Cab for Cutie cover story, pick up the September issue of Spin on newsstands everywhere, or click here to subscribe.